Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Coast-guard’s Story

By Sarah Williams (“Sadie”) (1841–1868)
(From “Songs of Comrades”)

   OUT on the isle of Mona,

      Mona with rocks so red,
For the sins of the wreckers who preyed there once,
  So the tradition said,
There lived a sturdy coast-guard,        5
  Watching the whole night long;
And he sang to the sea, to the sea sang he,
  This was his simple song:—
“Only over the sea,
  Only over the sea!        10
There my love doth dwell, she that loves me well,
  Waiting and looking for me.”
Singing away the darkness,
  Unto the dawning white,
When the sea-gulls came screaming, “A—i—e. ’Tis day!”        15
  Bats shivered, “Woe for night!”
Out of the waning darkness,
  Driven before the sun,
A ship came drifting, and drifting fast,
A ship with never a sail nor mast,        20
  All of its voyage done.
The coast-guard waited with hands fast clenched,
  Visage a purple white,
“Something is here that I needs must fear,
  After my dream last night.”        25
The ship came closer, the skeleton ship—
  Tangle of shattered ropes,
  Fragments of scattered hopes,
  Did round its timbers cling;
Among the shrouds, in a hammock of wreck,        30
  A dead man’s form did swing.
The coast-guard sprang with his heavy strength,
  And bore the body down;
He drew it in to a tomb-like rock,—
  The dead man seemed to frown.        35
The ship went curtseying back to sea,
  Like one whose task was done;
The coast-guard stood, in a daze stood he,
  Before the blinding sun.
Of all he rescued from out the sea        40
  He saw one hand alone;
On all the hand he could only see
  One well-remembered stone.
  “O ring!” the coast-guard cried,
  “How hast thou come to this?        45
The ring I gave her, my promised bride,
  With many a tear and kiss?
  “Man, didst thou slay my wife?
  Though thou wert three times dead
I would avenge her, would claim thy life        50
  For each dear hair of her head.
  “Or did she give my ring?
  How could such vileness be?
Man, with the truth at your black false heart,
  Declare it now to me!”—        55
The dead man smiled with an awful calm,
  And not a word said he.
  “If she be false! O God,
  Thou who the truth canst tell.”
The coast-guard swayed like a tree up-torn,        60
  And on his knees he fell.
  He grasped the fingers stiff,
  And loosed them one by one;
The dead man’s hand was a faithful hand,
  Its work was nearly done.        65
  A letter, held till now,
  Dropped from the open palm;
The case was sealed with the coast-guard’s name—
  He read in dream-like calm.
  “Love,” so it ran, “I am writing,        70
  Writing our last Good-bye;
I send the ring by a trusty hand,
  For they say I must die, must die.
  Do not be broken-hearted,
  Lover so true, so dear;        75
The pain is nothing,—I think of you,
  And I know that you fain were here.
  But you must hold your post, dear
  Must not be ruined for me;
Before my letter can reach you, love,        80
  I shall see you across the sea.
“Only a little while, dear,
  You will be free, be free!
We two shall meet on the golden street,
  In the city that knows no sea.        85
      Love, true love!
    Be happy, not sad, for me.”
The letter dropt from his palsied hand,
Two men lay stretched on the shifting strand
Like brothers lay, in a close embrace,        90
The cold sea-spray on each pale, pale face.
But the one to whom living meant only pain,
Was the one to be laden with life again.
Many a year has vanished;
  Grey is the coast-guard now,        95
With a shadowy smile in his tender eyes,
  Strength on his patient brow.
Still at his work he paces,
  Watching the whole night long;
And the birds, his companions, asleep on high,        100
  Hear not his passionate song.
“Only over the sea,
  Only over the sea!
There my love doth dwell, she that loves me well,
  Waiting and looking for me.”        105
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